As the World Turns: Finally Getting It Together
Perhaps someone passed along my Open Letter to Christopher Goutman. Perhaps Barbara Bloom took a good look at the plummeting ratings and decided that everyone should not lighten up after all. Perhaps head writer Jean Passanante took an extended vacation to Buenos Aires. Whatever has been happening over the last few weeks, let me step out on a limb and utter the words that many fans thought might not ever be said again or even believe: As the World Turns is, at long last, improving.
I fully expect the comments section to be full of invective and angry fist shaking about how ATWT is still "the worst soap on the air," how the vets are misused, and how the "Vortex of Suck" continues to, well, suck. In addition, the now well-documented list of the show's biggest defects remain stubbornly in place: warp-speed storytelling and the soul sucking semi-episodic structure continue to test the rapidly waning patience of the show's dwindling audience.
Having said that, it bears repeating that fans are a stubborn breed. We will praise shows, actors and performances we like, but we are quick to make our displeasure known when we feel things are not up to speed and falling apart. Once the latter narrative has been established it is very hard to turn the tide of opinion, even when a show starts to address its critics and make changes. Therefore, though the longstanding criticisms of ATWT are still valid, I think it is time to once again give credit where credit is due.
The first sign that positive changes were afoot involve the now-infamous Vortex of Suck. Lest we forget, the VoS was originally coined to describe not Paul or Meg as individuals but rather what had become the insufferable Paul/Meg romance. A classic soap love story of a wounded man's body and heart nursed back to health by the love of a good woman steadily, alarmingly devolved into a morass of incomprehensible character motivations and endlessly repeated storyline beats; ergo, "vortex."
However, through a series of crazy, forgettable plot twists the VoS was broken up. The much-hated Meg (Marie Wilson) was spun off from both of her masochistic relationships with the equally hated Paul (Roger Howarth) and the increasingly-hated Dusty (Grayson McCouch), and into a burgeoning relationship with Damian (Paolo Seganti). For his part, Dusty has been launched into a new Moonlighting-esque romance with Bonnie (Chauntee Schuler), a woman who isn't simpering after him and who doesn't suffer his mysoginistic impulses lightly.
While many fans have groaned about the Meg/Damian development, the pleasure of their pairing is that it has stirred a cauldron of long dormant interfamilial complications and threatens to rip open a multitude of relationship wounds that have not yet healed! Lest we forget, Damian is not only Lily's (Noelle Beck) ex-husband but also the other true love of her life, with whom she shares a son (Luke, Van Hansis) that Holden (the underused Jon Hensley) raised and is in rivalry over to this day for biological dad Damian's affection and esteem. Though smitten with Meg, Damian is still drawn to Lily. The closer Meg & Damian have grown, the more Lily (whose marriage has been on shaky ground for years) has been unable to hide her consuming jealousy until she and Meg had a wall-shaking, history-laden, character-eviscerating verbal brawl on Tuesday's episode that brought the stakes of these romantic entanglements past and present to the fore.
The character who has most benefited from these changes is Paul, or as I call him, Paul 8.5. For the longest time I advocated that Paul move to "the dark side" after the character (and viewers) had been made crazy by inconsistent writing. What I did not count on was just how bad Passanante would botch the 30+ year on-air history of the character by driving him insane and practically ignoring mother Barbara (the criminally underused Colleen Zenk Pinter), rendering Paul nearly without any redeeming qualities or rootable value. Then something remarkable happened: a stupid bomb plot, a newly discovered microchip in the cranium and a case of amnesia later, Paul was rebooted into a funny, brutally honest, devil may care horndog without a past who has been a breath of fresh air. No longer burdened with having to play an uneasy mix of former portrayer Scott Holroyd's Paul and One Life to Live's Todd Manning Lite, Howarth seems to be having a blast, whose newfound enthusiasm has rubbed off on ex-love/new lover...
Emily (Kelley Menighan Hensley), who drifted about the canvas so long at some points it felt as if one needed the Hubble telescope to locate her. Thanks to still great chemistry with Paul and the discovery her poached-egg son Hunter (the wonderfully quirky Evan Alex Cole), Emily has purpose, spark, sassiness and sexiness again. She also has a family. For all of the wacky twists involving Emily's powdered eggs (which is rooted in the show's history), the Stewarts — once pillars of Oakdale society — are back. The aforementioned Hunter, an exasperated Susan (Marie Masters) and her shady ex-husband Larry (Ed Fry), along with Alison (the wonderfully improved Marnie Schulenburg), are all present, complete with their own twisted backgrounds and family dymamics. (continued)